Of Lions and Lionesses
Leona Zimmerman looked into the bright light shining into her tired yet still open eyes as it penetrated into them. They burned with the kind of fire that would burn her soul if gone unchallenged. It baked her face and neck, though she still had the latter covered to protect herself from being seen, and exposed. The light came from a mechanical beast this time, more beastly because it was mechanical perhaps. One that would survive everyone who created or used it, in the end. But it was the shadow on the wall that the light threw up which caused her more worry than than the light itself. And what those shadows would do to the ‘cave-dwellers’, all of which were mostly half asleep.
The smell of the cavern penetrated into Leona’s nostrils, no matter how hard she tried to hold her breath, or keep it shallow enough to remain ‘detached’ from the matter at hand. It was not that the odor was foul, or even noxious. It was the ‘cleanness’ of the air that made it most dirty, and toxic. And as for toxic, such was the nature of the shadow on the wall as well as it displayed a victim not yet afflicted.
“This is Rover,” Dr. Zimmerman said to the students in front of her as she pointed to the overhead projected on the wall of the Biology lecture hall, a concave cavernous cage which had the capacity to keep 300 students hostage for 45 minutes at a time, or whisk them off to places beyond any buildings made by man, or woman, depending on who was at the podium. And of course what the overhead projector light splattered onto the screen as shadows, forms and ‘data’.
Leona looked up at the picture of the healthy, happy Labrador Retriever which had been taken by photographers with two legs who had far less brains, ethics or vitality than the pup. She let her eyes rest upon the creature, imagining its primal roots and, if she had her way, ultimate destination. “Yes,” she thought to herself as she looked at Rover. “You have eyes of a wolf, not a dog. The mind of a fox, not a mutt. And a Soul that is not worthy of the brain-dead humanoids who own you, nor the soul-dead veterinarians who take the credit for keeping you alive, nor the medical researchers who developed the carbon and hydrogen-containing molecules that,well, work enough of the time for us to keep using and believing in them,” she continued in her ever-racing mind. “And if you were my responsibility to take care of, I would never name you ‘Rover’. Never make you play games that I wanted to play and you didn’t. And never make you…become the victim of toxins that…” She stopped there, glancing at her reflection in the glass in the back of the lecture hall above where the students were.
In that reflection was a woman in her early 40s with long black hair flowing over her shoulders to the middle of her back, her sleek hips wrapped and shaped by a tan pencil skirt, complimented with a brown satin blouse that accentuated a slender neck on the inside and fit into a white lab coat on the outside. Her legs were messaged by dark brown hosiery, her feet kept firmly on the ground by black, stiletto heels. A reflection which was ‘respectable and alluring’ eye-candy for any man glancing at at the cover of a biomedical supply catalog, and any woman who needed to be reminded of how she had to look like to find or keep a man. The best genetic features of ‘Injun’ and ‘Paleface’, combined into one hot looking body which Leona worked so hard to get, and was still working on further so that she could feel ‘right’ on the inside. As for what was under the ‘perfect professional’ attire and which she was required to wear, and champion, this was another matter. How much she wanted to share with her students the truth about herself, Rover, and the potential harm that biologists too well skilled in their craft could really do. And what biologists were doing to themselves. But, one lesson at a time, and the most important lesson Leona had learned this day, was that if she received another comment from a disgruntled or dissatisfied student, it was her ass that would be kicked out the door, having to scrounge for dog food in dumpsters that Rover had passed up eating. Or worse, being treated like a dog. A slave who has forfeited the will to live, and replaced it with the obsessesion to please. Pleasing Masters who enjoy inflicting pain and humiliation on her as she would begin to yearn for her own destruction, one degrading step at a time.
The inner voices in Leona’s mind seemed to foreshadow something to come, but that would be then, and this was now. But she had been AWOL from her currently-assigned Earthly duties. After all, a Wizard or Wizardess is only kept alive by the villagers below if he, or she, is the keeper of knowledge they need for their survival or if he/she can keep them entertained. And, for better or worse, Leona’s yearn for survival was still stronger than other instincts competing inside of her.
Assistant Professor Zimmerman made her brain give her mind a swift kick in the ass and gave voice to what had to be done in the here and now. Her eyes awakened to worldly lights again, as she looked at the writing on top of the next overhead. “Toxins and Antedotes,” she read with as much self-enforced lifelessness as possible, in the exact words and subtext of the officially-approved verbiage, leaving to the students the task of reading the top ten list of common toxins and antidotes that afflict canines as she smelled the light in the overhead lamp attempt to fry the un-burnable plastic upon which the party-line ‘truths’ were printed. “As inferred by the graphic of Rover here, and the and the Marauding Toxins trying to do him in. But Rover doesn’t have to…” she continued, keeping on script with regard to the verbiage and non-offensive ‘humor’ of textbook from which the overheads were extracted. Then she paused, recalling events from the past that were very personal, and not on the course curriculum at this, or for that matter, any other established University.
Trying to bridge the inner and outer worlds, she let her eyes wander over the ‘audience’, seeing if anyone was really listening to what she had to say. They of course had no reason to actually listen. Education these days was about disseminating information to students, the students regurgitating it back on an exam, then if they behaved enough like trained dogs, they got a reward bone in the form of a passing grade they could use toward getting a certificate for a job, or a higher grade if they aspired to a career which would eventually become just a job. But there was one ‘monkey’ in the cage of trainees who really was listening. Who really was here because she wanted to make a difference in the world rather than merely be accepted by it for maintaining the statusquo.
By outward appearance, Rachel Russell could be said to look like the rest of the herd, whose clothing involved three to five different styles of fabric forced to make peace with each other, held together only by some respect for color coordination. Footwear made for comfort rather than fashion. Hair, when it was present on the head, that was never one color, with roots that were a different hue than anything above them. Such was true of both the young women and young men, who passively read the hand outs that were exactly what was on the overhead. But Rachel’s eyes were ancient, and hungry. Listening and wanting more to feed what was behind them, as she rummaged through textbooks, rather than her lap top, to see if the antidotes for the toxins listed on the overhead were effective, and if there were better alternatives. In previous courses Leona had taught, Rachel had questioned what Leona had read from the overheads before, and added to them on occasion, resulting in interesting discourses between the two of them while the rest of the students zoned out, since none of it would be on the exam. Leona got into big shit for discoursing more than pontificating in that course, and was given notice that if she ever did it again, she would be out of a job, and a career.
“Yes,” Leona found herself saying, as a prelude to something in the first day of this new course that would lead to something far beyond, yet still encompassing, what was in the curriculum that the students, or someone else, were paying $300 a credit for. Promethian defiance shot into Leona’s spine from her gut, pushing it into a more upright, passionate and, interestingly enough, alluring position. “Rover, our dog who has been exposed to these toxins, does NOT have to roll over and play dead, if we go beyond what is in the books and—”
Leona stopped, having seen her reflection as a Warrior Princess in the glass above the last row of slumbering students. Next to that reflection just beyond the discretely opened door was John Ditka, more accurately Professor Herr Doctor John Ditka, Chairmench of the Biological Sciences department. His lab coat neatly pressed, every graying hair on his aristocratic Germanically-trained head in perfect place, his eyes framed by wire-rim glasses. With a slight movement of his fingers, he ‘suggested’ that Leona say what was on the per-approved party-line overheads rather than what was on her mind. It was a last warning that Ditka meant this time.
“Render unto Caesar that which is Caesars,” came to Leona’s logical brain, as this was the way you got your ‘citizen papers’ as a researcher, teacher and potential changer of people’s minds and hearts from the inside of established institutions. “But give to God that which is God’s,” she recalled with her ‘Mind-Heart’ who understood the original speaker of those words in ways that most other Christians didn’t, or couldn’t. She recalled that Jesus was crucified. But if the same were to happen to her, she had no ‘Dirty Dozen’ of Jewish publicists to carry on her work, and those publicists of Jesus were crucified themselves eventually.
While she was deciding which road to take, Ditka pointed again towards the overhead, his suggestion now a command.
Leona decided to ‘render to reality’ again both in tone and content. She flipped on to the next overhead, wincing at the scientific limitations of the print and the lifelessness of the graphics associated with it.
“The established protocols for antidote administration for commonly observed toxins are…” she read eyes turned down, with as lifeless a voice as possible. She continued to passively pass on the data on the overhead prepared by the publisher of the Department-approved textbook, word for word, without any rhythm or musicality her speech. It seemed to please Ditka as, once again, she was an instructor rather than a teacher. A conduit for data transference rather an an interpreter and builder of knowledge. It seemed to please everyone, though. The ‘what do I have to know for the exam?’ students. The Department Chairman who valued protocol over thinking. And even the cartoon of Rover, put into ‘so-Disney’ cheerful lifelessness by a G rated artist who knew nothing about edge, heart or pathos. Even Leona felt okay with the deal, thinking that if she gave in to Ditka here in the lecture hall containing 50 student, she could still keep her lab from which she could educate 50,000 or more minds by publishing innovative work that would perhaps someday wind up in an enlightenmentally-written textbook, which would not only contain innovative data and ideas, but..humanity and that so necessary but always missing element in science—Vitality-based humor.
No, there was a reason why Leona became a biologist who specialized in developing antidotes for toxins which existed now, or would be created later by vicious men, and women, for anti-life purposes. Reasons she never voiced to anyone on her way up the ladder, even the few “Rachels” she had run across along the way. And as in all strategies for a higher good, or to correct previous ‘bads’, sometimes you have to take a step to the side or a step backward to make a significant forward leap. That All-American strategy of compromise.
But there was one person who was not happy with the compromise. “I paid from my own fucking pocket, $300 a credit for this!” Leona could hear, come out of Rachel’s mouth. “This ‘revolutionary’ is betraying me just like everyone else. Guess that means that I should give up the revolution business like everyone else has. Just ‘go with the flow’ into the toilet like everyone else, then ‘accept my limitations’ like a good girl, a smart girl, a girl who will be taken care of by everybody, a slave who doesn’t have to think about anything at all except what I’m supposed to do to other slaves to serve the master,” she could feel coming out of Rachel’s defeated eyes.
Something snapped in Leona’s mind. A life-changing moment, perhaps. A flash that came from the Core to body, mind and spirit. She suddenly stopped reading the overhead, and read the Agenda of the Spirit in the room. And the strategy of the devil outside it. Yes, to serve the angels she would have to get ride of the demons first. There was one thing she did not do for Ditka, that now seemed necessary. “The standard treatments for toxic exposure in dogs has been carefully and throughly worked out by the North American Veterinary Association,” she said with a big, wide smile. “Following the protocols given by them will guarantee positive results. Diazapam at 0.5 mg per kg BW for strychnine exposure. EtOH if given early enough for antifreeze exposure. Atropine and other AchE inhibitors for organophosphate exposure which—“. She stopped, noting that Ditka had left. But though that carrier of Dull Out Virus had left, other demons came into Leona’s head. Rachel closed her books, her heart and her mind, dozing into a world of hopelessness behind her distant eyes.
Leona recalled her past, and the many toxins she had encountered in the world outside the University walls. And the walls of standard North American morality. In places where toxins made to kill bugs, mice and bacteria had been used against mammalian species, particularly the one that walked on two legs. And where flesh-eating microbes were ‘hired’ to clandestinely do the job of even more vicious men, and women. The faces of the victims in those places that could not be identified on a map by 95% of the students in front of Leona haunted her. Along with the other sufferings that were inflicted upon them by Leona’s comrades, and her. Sometimes by accident, sometimes by design. “Do a little harm now to stop a lot of harm later,” the rationalization for it. “You are all privildged to be necessary evils, for a greater good,” the battle cry that was used to justify so much of what Leona had witnessed, and done, in the past. But, she was a different person then. Someone who had been part of the problem. Thank the Spirit of spirits that she was now part of the Solution, though doing so would require yet another bold, brave and illogical decision.
“And NOW for the Truth!” Leona boldly said as she raised up her eyes. “The truths behind the facts. The data. The protocols. Such as if an animal, or person, gets wacked with Organophosphates, and you can keep the parasympathetic nervous system from fucking up short term with atropine, you still have to worry about delayed neurotoxicity where the long tract neurons get tangles at the distal ends and start dying in inches further up till the cell bodies croak out. Stoppable by no protocol in this textbook, but with…as I speculate and think I show work, these.” Leona grabbed a piece of chalk, grateful the room she was assigned was one of the ‘vintage’ lecture halls that had a blackboard upon which NEW ideas could be written, erased, and modified. Upon it she wrote a list of no less than ten treatments, ranging from thiamine to pyruvate, revealing how she think they might work.
“And as for other toxins that have killed a lot more animals and people than the ones in this textbook,” she continued.
The ‘what do I have to know for the exam?’ kids freaked out as Leona frantically wrote out the ‘most beloved’ industrial chemicals that would reek havoc on biological flesh, describing their mechanisms of action and potential cures with lightening speed and very emotionally-infused language, incorporating the ‘f’, ‘s’ and even ‘mf’ word at appropriate places, the Redskin Assistant Professor’s black humor conferring a Reality to the data and speculations. Rachel smiled with delight as her classmates asked Leona ‘is this going to be on the exam?’ and she replied ‘the exam of life, unless you want to continue being a lifeless corpse.’
“But this isn’t a course in microbiology,” one of the students said sheepishly,.
“It is now. Because bugs can kill you quicker and more powerfully than drugs,” Leona said. “Which I do NOT recommend for recreational or enjoyment purposes because the Madness of being a Creative Soul and an effective one is best enjoyed…straight,” she said, indulging in a laugh. A very private joke she had shared with no one in the Department, or the University.
Rachel looked at Leona, asking to explain the pun or elaborate on it, but sexual orientation was for later. Humanity was for now. Leona grabbed hold of another piece of chalk as if it was a machine gun, aiming it at the board in the War against cruelty, ignorance and passivity. “Anthrax,” she went on, writing the key points on the board bold enough for anyone to read it, even Ditka without his wire-rimmed glasses. “A gram positive bacteria that despite what the manufacturers say, isn’t always nuc’d into obedience by third generation cephalexins. Its playmate on the field of living death, Yersinia Pestes, AKA, the Black Plague, which didn’t take a permanent exit after killing half of the polution of Europe back in the 14th Century. Then we got Influenza A H5N1. Filovirus. Riff Valley fever….”
As Leona went on, she could hear her voice change as the place from which she was firing it out of becoming more fueled with Passion in the service of Compassion. She could hear herself sound more Southern, more Western, and then more ‘Injun’. Such was, as she self-observed herself, acceptable and part of what was required. But she found herself wondering about other things she had witnessed and done, or allowed to be done, in the past. All of those wars in which killing people now, often innocent ones, was necessary to stop slavery in one form or another. The kind of slavery that pulled in women and children most often, in ways that were irreversible.
As Leona went into the biological actions and potential cures for Scrapies, Rinderpest and Ebola Virus, she was battling above all the most insidious virus. DOV. Dull out Virus. Which infected the SOUL of so many people, most particularly scientists. Then she noticed, as she became exhausted in this assault against Ignorance and Cruelty, something else happening with her voice. It went down one, then two octaves. She tried to cover it up with a cough that lasted a minute or longer. She looked up and noticed that there were more Alive eyes in the room now.
Half of he congregation, by her calculation, wanted her to continue. And Rachel felt…not as alone as she did earlier. And open to what had happened to Leona’s voice, and why.
Leona chose to focus on something more understandable and tolerable to the group than her own inner secrets, and demons. She accessed the microphone in the podium, and continued with a tension-driven ‘whisper’ voice, a modality of speech made famous by Clint Eastwood and obnoxiously sterile by all of those ‘professional sounding’ women who were the head Cops on the TV detective shows. “If anyone wants to leave now, that’s ok. But if ya’ll want to stay, that’s ok too. I won’t ask anything on the exam that’s not on the handouts for the course, which ya’ll can pick up at the library at anytime.”
A handful of the kids left. Rachel intimidated the fence sitters to give this Mad Scientist lady another shot. She nodded to Leona to continue. Leona did so, with a victorious bliss that rivaled the a century and a hafl ago when her ancestors whipped George Armstrong Custer’s ass at the Little Big Horn and sent him on his way to the Happy Hunting grounds, most probably to an incarnation as a monk, or nun, in someplace where there were more colored faces than palefaces.